For wine lovers, October is Merlot Month and time to refamiliarize yourself with the Merlot grape. For eight years, wine enthusiasts and producers have joined together for #merlotme to promote this noble red grape.
Merlot went out of favor when in 2004, the movie Sideways snubbed the grape while bringing notoriety to Pinot Noir and putting Santa Barbara Wine Country on the map. By 2014 Merlot was making its comeback even Solvang and Santa Ynez, but it needed a boost across the United States so in comes Merlot Month to help get Merlot back on its feet.
Merlot is a grape varietal known for its deep blue color that gives wine a dark purple color. The grapes form loose clusters with large berries. The wines are typically full-bodied with a soft, lush, velvety quality and texture that displays flavors of plum and black fruits. Its soft character and fleshiness make Merlot a popular blending grape. It is one of the five primary grapes utilized in Bordeaux wines and is more prominent in the Right Bank blends.
Merlot Month Participating Wineries
Although this article will feature the Merlot wines of 4 different wineries, many wineries in California, Washington, and Oregon promote Merlot Month and the variety with special events and offers.
Here are some of the Merlot Month wineries :
St. Supery Estate
McIntyre Family Wines
L’Ecole No 41
Bonterra Organic Vineyards
La Jota Vineyard Co.
SHARE A SPLASH wine co.
J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines
Grgich Hills Estate
Robert Young Estate Winery
Peju Province Winery
Rutherford Hill Winery
Merlot Month Wine Suggestions
Here are a few suggestions for Merlot Month that I tried recently and enjoyed. If you miss out on celebrating Merlot Month, any of these choices would be optimal in celebrating International Merlot Day on November 7, 2020.
L’Ecole No 41 2017 Merlot Estate Walla Walla Valley
L’Ecole No 41 refers to the schoolhouse that houses its winery. The schoolhouse was built in 1915 and is located in Frenchtown, a historic community west of Walla Walla, Washington. French-Canadians settled in the valley in the 1800s. Founded in 1983, the winery’s name is derived from the French term for school, L’Ecole, and the district the winery is located in, which is 41.
The grapes for this Merlot come from two estate vineyards, Ferguson, known for its basalt soils and gives the wine its minerality, and Seven Hills with its wind-blown loess soils that instill structure and complexity into the wine. The Merlot ages 18 months in 35% new oak.
I found a well-structured wine with many layers resulting from the two vineyards’ different soil profiles. The wine exhibits aromas of dark fruit and tobacco and savory flavors of brooding cherry with pepper on the finish.
Seavey 2017 Merlot
Seavey, an artisan winery, is located in Napa, and the property’s vineyards were some of the first hillside vineyards in Napa Valley, dating back to 1870. Bill and Mary Seavey purchased the property in 1979 and replanted in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Merlot grapes come from a single-vineyard and utilize traditional Bordeaux methods. Each vineyard block is harvested and vinified separately with whole-berry fermentation. The wine aged in French oak, 38% new, for 20 months.
This wine displays a very integrated, balanced, and smooth texture. On the nose, find tobacco, mocha, and savory notes. The tobacco and mocha come through on the palate, along with flavors of cherry.
Decoy 2018 Sonoma County Merlot
Duckhorn owns Decoy, and it is their more affordable label. It started as a second label for Duckhorn and evolved to become its own winery. The winery facility is located in Hopland, just north of Sonoma County.
The Merlot grapes come from Sonoma County and include grapes from the sub-appellations of Dry Creek, Alexander Valley, Russian River, and Knights Valley. The composition is primarily Merlot with a percent of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. The wine ages 12 months in French oak, 40% new oak.
The wine delivered more acidity compared to its sister, the Duckhorn Merlot from Napa Valley. The difference is not just being from Sonoma versus Napa but because the soil types are different in the two areas. Even the color is redder. Although lush, I felt it seemed lighter in body. The flavors of cherry were very dominant, making the wine very fruity. The wine also delivered hints of mocha and some mineral notes. This wine is young and youthful.
Duckhorn Vineyards 2017 Napa Valley Merlot
Established in 1976, Dan and Margaret Duckhorn were one of the pioneers of Napa Valley. Duckhorn became known for producing the first luxury Merlot in America and helped establish Merlot’s legacy in the United States.
Comparing the Napa Valley Merlot to the Decoy, I preferred the Duckhorn. I found the wine more balanced and more complex. This Merlot blends 80% Merlot with 16% Cabernet Sauvignon, 2.5% Cabernet Fran, 1 % Petit Verdot, and .05% Malbec. The addition of the other varieties adds the depth that the wine exudes. The wine is dryer than its Decoy counterpart. Find lush flavors of cherry and raspberry with hints of mocha accented by baking spices.
Note: Common to the wine industry, this writer received a hosted wine samples. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure.